Iconic British actor and grand old man of gay-rights advocacy Ian McKellen won huge laughs and a round of applause Monday night as he described Disney’s new Beauty and the Beast as a “gay extravaganza” in brief remarks made before the film’s New York City premiere.
Beauty and the Beast’s director, Bill Condon, has claimed the movie has the first openly gay moment in Disney’s storied film history.
McKellen, who previously worked with Condon on Gods & Monsters, in which he played gay filmmaker James Whale, joked that the Disney movie marks “another gay extravaganza” for himself and Condon. The Oscar-nominated Shakespearean actor was speaking as the cast took the stage at the Alice Tully Hall in New York.
McKellen stars as a magical talking clock alongside Emma Watson, who is the movie’s heroine, Luke Evans is Gaston and Josh Gad plays the role of LeFou.
The “gay moment” comes during a scene in which Gaston’s manservant LeFou explores his sexuality. Condon told the British magazine Attitude: “LeFou is somebody who on one day wants to be Gaston and on another day wants to kiss Gaston.
“He’s confused about what he wants. It’s somebody who’s just realizing that he has these feelings. And Josh makes something really subtle and delicious out of it. And that’s what has its payoff at the end, which I don’t want to give away. But it is a nice, exclusively gay moment in a Disney movie.”
The interview has caused global ripples, with one Alabama theater refusing to play the film, an Anglican bishop in Singapore condemning the picture, and Russian officials giving the production a restrictive age rating.
However, some early reviews have questioned whether or not the new production is actually any advance on the increasingly progressive studio’s long tradition of including coded gay references in some of its output: Variety’s Owen Gleiberman wrote that LeFou is “maximally silly and fawning, but I must have missed the memo where that spells ‘gay.’”
The director himself subsequent to the interview said that the comments were “overblown” and that all of the anticipation for the scene has hurt the moment.
There is one fleeting moment where LeFou dances with another man—a sequence that was greeted by the invited crowd last night with claps of approval, according to Variety.